Who, Whom

Whom Shall I Say Is Calling? Who Shall I Say Is Calling? Which One?

by Owen Fourie

Here are two words that make many wonder if they have said or written something incorrectly.

The use of the relative pronouns who and whom is ordered according to a simple grammatical rule.

The application of the rule might not always be easy, and this happens especially when a sentence is long and complicated.

This is a problem more in speech than in writing. When you are writing, you are able to check and correct what you have written.

What is the rule for using who and whom?

To understand the rule, distinguish between subject pronouns and object pronouns. 

Position of Subject & Object Pronouns in a Sentence

Subject Pronoun





Object Pronoun

I, we, you, she, he, it, they, who

me, us, you, her, him, it, them, whom

Object pronouns also serve as objects of prepositions

Three conditions expound the rule for using who and whom:

  1. If the required pronoun comes before the verb, it is a subject pronoun—use who.
  2. If the required pronoun comes after the verb (as direct or indirect object), it is an object pronoun—use whom.
  3. If the required pronoun follows a preposition, as the object of the preposition, use whom.

How can I make the right choice?

There is no choice to be made for the object of a preposition. Who cannot fill that position. It belongs to whom.

For statements and questions, you can extend the above rule to consider the action involved, and ask,

  1. Who is doing the action? The subject performs the action, so who is the pronoun to use. The athlete who won the gold in 1996 was there.
  2. To whom is the action being done? The action affects the object, so whom should be used. The athlete whom the press vilified was not there.

How should I apply this to questions?

When you apply this to questions, there is a trick* that can help you.

Supply a statement using the subject pronoun he or the object pronoun him, whichever fits, to answer the question.

  1. If he is right to use in your answer, use who in the question.
  2. If him is right, use whom.


Who/whom do you like best of all?

I like him best of all.

Whom do you like best of all?


Who/whom do you think will win?

I think he will win.

Who do you think will win?


Who/whom saw the game?

He saw the game.

Who saw the game?


Who/whom gave her the award?

He gave her the award.

Who gave her the award?


Who/whom would you like to see playing in the semi-final?

I would like to see him playing in the semi-final.

Whom would you like to see playing in the semi-final?


Who/whom have you seen in the players’ pavilion?

I have seen him in the players’ pavilion.

Whom have you seen in the players’ pavilion?


Doesn’t using whom sound stuffy and isn’t it becoming obsolete?

There is no doubt that the usage is changing, and who is being used more and more where whom should be used.

It is finding acceptance in day-to-day conversation and in informal writing, and even in some formal writing.

Nevertheless, you would be well advised to be familiar with the who-whom usage, as described above, and use whom, where appropriate, in your formal papers and speeches.

What is the correct choice in the title of this article?

Who/whom shall I say is calling?

He is calling.

Who shall I say is calling?

*I found the idea of using “he” and “him” in this useful grammar text: Elliott, Rebecca. Painless Grammar. Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s Educational Series, 1997. 198-99. Print.


If there are any points about who and whom that still puzzle you, please ask here for clarification. Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.

Here are more articles to help you with English words, grammar, and essay writing.

Copyright © 2012 by English Essay Writing Tips www.englishessaywritingtips.com


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    • Linda Brown on March 30, 2019 at 14:13

    I received this in a form: “If I have any questions whom can I call?” Isn’t “who” subject of its own clause as meaning “Who is it that I can call?” I understand that “To whom shall I write?” is correct because it is object of a preposition but is the first statement correct using “whom” or should it be “who” and why?


    1. Correctly written, there should also be a comma before the actual question: “If I have any questions, who can I call?” Yes, you are correct. In its own clause and placed as it is here before the verb, that pronoun is in the position of a subject and should be who.

    • Becky on September 26, 2018 at 18:36

    Thank you for your explanation, it really helped. Do you have any information on citations for English papers?
    thank you,

    1. At http://www.englishessaywritingtips.com/ look in the sidebar on the right. There you’ll find links to Son of Citation Machine. This should help you.

    • personal learner on February 8, 2018 at 11:15

    Thank you for the amazing explanation. I have a question about a specific way of saying a sentence.
    If I want to say :
    I like the man (_____) I gave the chocolate to. Or If I want to say : I don’t particularly like the man to (_____) I gave the chocolate.

    Do I use whom or who ? I am a little confused because it seems like who and whom work in this case. Since the subject is doing something to the object .

    Thank you

    1. 1.

      I like the man (_____) I gave the chocolate to.

      Who would be perfectly fine when speaking informally: I like the man who I gave the chocolate to.

      Whom is required for formal grammar: I like the man whom I gave the chocolate to.

      Of course, in formal grammar it is better not to let a sentence end with a preposition and that would solve the problem because you would then say, I like the man to whom I gave the chocolate.

      If you do let your sentence end with a preposition, that preposition will still require you to use whom in formal grammar.


      I don’t particularly like the man to (_____) I gave the chocolate.

      From the above, you will deduce the following correct form:

      I don’t particularly like the man to whom I gave the chocolate.

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